As a teenager, I sat on the back row at a Christian conference, listening to the keynote speaker discuss raising godly children. He talked about building character, the importance of family discipleship, and passing on a biblical worldview. I was nodding in agreement, until his teenage son elbowed me. “You know,” he whispered, “if my parents knew what I really believed, I think they would be shocked.” My head started to spin. How could his father, who was a nationally renowned parenting expert, seem so detached from his own son?
I’m sure he kept up with his son’s grades and made sure that he was on par with his standardized achievement tests in school. The problem with those benchmarks, however, is that they reveal only what a child knows. It is vastly more important to know what a child believes, and, as I learned at that conference, this can be difficult to uncover, even for very conscientious parents.
Every day children are developing a worldview. They are seeing life through many different lenses that color their perception of reality, lenses shaped by their experiences and the information they receive.
Many voices call out to children: not just parents but peers, media, books, magazines, video games, textbooks, music, teachers, social media, and more. As much as we may try to protect them from harmful external influences and promote positive ones, sheltering is not enough. We must teach them how to deal with the subtle thinking of this world that wars against our faith, always remembering that temptation lies on both sides of our hearts’ door. Our own sinful natures, inherited from Adam, work against us, and our greatest need is personal salvation and sanctification.
Knowing your child involves far more than lecturing on what to believe. It mandates conversation and asking questions. It requires the Deuteronomy 6 method of discussing God’s Word, day and night. Don’t shut children down if they express doubts or question a conventional position on an issue. Draw them out. Demonstrate that it is safe to work through struggles and confusion with you.
Most important, make sure that your teaching and discipline are accompanied with lavish amounts of affirmation and love. Without truth embodied and lived out in proper relationship, young people will very likely reject the doctrine taught by their parents.
As a parent, I would like to ensure that my children make the right choices and believe the right things. As much as I desire, however, I can’t make them love and obey Jesus. I can learn their struggles, though, and be prepared to assist and pray for them by maintaining open and loving relationships with them. My mandate from God is simply to be faithful.
Jesus was the perfect balance of love and truth. We seek to walk in His steps.